By Tina Comeau
Robert Thibault is no stranger to federal elections.
After first winning the West Nova seat in the 2000 election, three times since then he’s been the incumbent candidate in the race.
But not this time.
While he’s a familiar face, Thibault is in a different situation. The Liberal candidate is trying to win back the seat he lost to Conservative Greg Kerr in the 2008 election.
So what keeps bringing him back to the ballot box?
“I believe in the process and I believe in what you can achieve,” he says. “And I’ve gained a lot of experience that I think can be useful.”
On Wednesday, April 13 – the morning after the party leaders’ English-language debate –Thibault has stopped by the Yarmouth Vanguard’s newsroom for an interview. Since people are talking about the previous night’s debate, he’s asked how he thinks his leader, Michael Ignatieff, performed.
“I think he did fine. He stated his position. He raised what the problems are with Stephen Harper,” Thibault says.
Still, if anyone – himself included – was looking for the overall knockout punch of the English-language debate, Thibault says there wasn’t one.
“I think the debate last night shores up the decided vote,” he says. “Time will tell, but I don’t think there was a lot there for the undecided.”
And so the campaigning goes on.
There’s been some changes in what Thibault is hearing when he knocks on doors and visits groups or businesses in this federal election – Thibault’s fifth in 11 years. The last time around the environment was an issue that weighed heavy on people’s minds.
This time, he says, people are concerned with how they and their families are getting by day-by-day.
“One of the things you hear everywhere is the fear, particularly of seniors and low-income Canadians, about energy costs. When you have energy costs go up by 30 per cent in a three-or-four-month period, people are scared,” he says. For some people, it means trying to figure out how to make ends meet. They’re deciding what’s essential in their lives and what they can – or have to – do without.
“If you’re a single senior living at home alone . . . and you don’t have a lot of disposable income and you can only take care of your basic needs, then something has to give,” he says. “It’s either glasses, a hearing aid, medications, food, repairs on the house.”
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Likewise for working families, he says. They are finding it more and more challenging to get by.
West Nova is a large riding. On one end the fishery plays an important role. Towards the other end farming is big. Yet a common thread that stitches through the riding is tourism. So another issue that Thibault hears a lot about is another summer in Yarmouth without a New England ferry link.
“The Yarmouth ferry, that’s having an effect on every town through the valley,” he says. “The further you get away from Yarmouth, the least frequently you hear it. But you still hear it. It’s still a concern.”
Asked if there is anything he would have done differently in dealing with the issue over the past year, Thibault says to him the fix was an easy one – not easy as in simple, but easy as in obvious.
“It’s to get the federal government back involved because in the past it was always a federally-funded service,” he says. “When Bay Ferries got into trouble a few years ago, when the province stepped in with funding, I think the province made a mistake at that time by not going to the feds and saying it’s time to step back in.”
Asked if the word “subsidy” should be considered a bad word, Thibault doesn’t think so.
“It’s a necessity. It’s infrastructure. It’s a highway. There is no way, I believe, that the private sector can buy a ferry and operate a ferry service without it. If you charged the fees that it would cost to operate the service the people couldn’t pay for them,” he says. “So you have to subsidize. You have to look at the infrastructure as we do with many other things.”
And, he believes, operators shouldn’t be expected to submit a proposal without knowing that a subsidy is on the table.
Meanwhile, whatever issues people are concerned with, and whatever candidates they are looking to support – although Thibault, obviously, hopes it’s him – a message he stresses is to get out and vote.
“We have to look at what we want in our country and where we want to go in the future and make the effort,” he says. “We’re not in Libya or Egypt or Syria, we don’t have to take up arms. We just have to vote. Get informed and vote.”